Step by Step Guide to the Market Research Process

Summary: The market research process requires decisions related to budget, target sample, development of data collection tools, fielding, analysis, and reporting. Here is a check list to make the process easier.

5 minutes to read. By author Michaela Mora on March 15, 2022
Topics: Business Strategy, Market Research

Market Research Process

The market research process requires making decisions at many steps that can be overwhelming for non-researchers put in charge of research projects.

Consider these practical tips to conduct the following 6 steps during the implementation of a market research project.

Step 1. Define the Problem and Translate It into Research Objectives

  • This is the most important step. It sets the direction of the whole market research process. Ask clients how they will use the research results, and what business decisions they will make based on the data. They should be specific. Get a consensus among key stakeholders on the main research objectives. Get them involved from the start.
  • Avoid objective creep. Don’t try to research everything under the sky in a project. Focus on what’s needed for decision-making. Trying to cram many things into a project because of budget constraints is often a waste of money as data quality suffers.
  • Discuss limitations early in the process. Set clear expectations of what the research will cover and what data it will provide.
  • Do secondary research, and check if previous research has been conducted on the same issue to avoid effort duplication and waste of money. Interview key stakeholders to put the research objectives into a greater context.
  • Exploratory primary research may be needed with your target market (customers /users, non-customers) to better define the information needs.
  • DO NOT select a data collection method before establishing clear objectives and identifying the target population. Think objectives firsts, methods second. Not the other way around.
  • How much are the key stakeholders willing to invest in the requested research? Get a number! If there is no commitment to a budget, you will be wasting your time (RFP) and your research vendor’s time (proposal). There is always a trade-off between research quality, deadline, and cost. Make your internal clients aware of that. There is a limit to “better, faster, and cheaper” in market research. Push it too hard and you will get fast cheap, crappy research.

Step 2. Formulate the Approach

  • Based on the research objective think, which research methodology would be the best fit. Start with the broader categories: Secondary? Primary? Qualitative? Quantitative?
  • Based on the decisions that will be made, determine what type of data is needed and expected.
  • Envision the final decisions that stakeholders will make and select analysis techniques that help you reach the research objectives and provide insights to support those decisions.
  • The analysis techniques selected will also influence the decision on sample size.
  • Ideally, if budget permits do qualitative research before or after quantitative research
  • Consider qualitative research for exploration before quantitative and deep-diving after quantitative research.
  • Consider quantitative research if a go/no go decision will be made. DO NOT make these types of decisions based only on qualitative research

Step 3. Define The Research Design

Define the Target Population for the Research

  • Who do you want to gather data from? Customers? Non-Customers? Category users? Be realistic. Given your budget, you may or may not be able to reach your target population.
  • Sample definition helps decide on what data collection method we use. More than one method may be needed. To read more about mixed-mode  data collection check: Mixed Data Collection Modes – Round-Up
  • Create clear screening criteria. Discuss them with key stakeholders. Make sure they align with the research objectives.
  • Discuss the caveats and limitations of the sample definition and how they will affect the results and decision-making.
  • Determine the sample size based on your tolerance for risk.  Check Sample Size Matter
  • A large sample doesn’t guarantee representativeness. Check: Does A Large Sample Size Guarantee A Representative Sample?
  • If you have access to a customer database with emails, use it for studies related to customer retention goals and new product development.
  • For customer acquisition, efforts use samples of non-customers in the category.
  • If the study is online get bids from multiple online panels.
  • Don’t buy third-party email lists and blast them with survey invites. It is illegal (SPAM-CAN Act).
  • If you are conducting qualitative research, small samples are expected given the exploration nature of this methodology category. Consider issues of sample size saturation. Depending on the overall research objectives, results from qualitative research may need validation via quantitative research.

 Select Data Collection Method (s)

Step 4. Collect Data

  • Do a soft launch if you are doing online surveys to catch any potential problems.
  • Get involved, monitor. early to catch any potential issues that can affect data quality (e.g., bad respondents, programming errors, etc.).

Step 5. Data Processing

  • Clean your data. It doesn’t matter if it is quantitative or qualitative data, quality controls are needed.
  • Fraudulent research participants are always trying to game the system to get their incentives. Try to catch them on the fly with the help of fraud prevention software and smart programming in recruitment screeners and question design and programming.
  • Code open-ended questions to find patterns in the data.
  • Create cross-tabulated tables to help organize the data if you do surveys.
  • Transcribe interviews and focus group discussions to use tools to organize qualitative data to facilitate thematic analysis.

Step 6. Analyze & Report

  • Keep the key objectives in mind to connect market research to business impact. Check: How To Connect Market Research To Business Impact
  • Share preliminary results with key stakeholders, discuss, and check if they make sense from a practical standpoint.
  • Focus on the story behind the numbers and how it supports your recommendations. Don’t do a data dump. Focus on insights.